Apr
27
2010

Can I write poetry?

Romantic Snowdonia (photo by Richard0 - CC-BY)

You can write poetry!

You can, you can, I know you can; you only have to try.
You'd never kissed, embraced a miss, but when you could, you could.
There're lots of things in life to do, that some will never try.
One of these for many folk is writing poetry.

Well, it looks like it rhymes!

And that is good enough. Indeed, it rather makes a point—or two or three about writing your own poetry. Originally, I was trying to rhyme have done with poetry is one. Not only did I have trouble forcing the words to fit, the resulting sentiment seemed trite instead of light and self-deprecating. (If anyone objects that it is only directed at males, poetry does not have to be politically correct.)

Everyone has been exposed to poetry. Maybe the subject was a drag in school, having to read “serious stuff”, the big names in your language or those in your foreign language course; worse, having to memorize poems that did not speak to you. But songs of every type are poetry, and almost everyone knows the words to many songs.

The fact that the words have a rhythm and rhyme makes them easy to recall—sometimes hard to forget, like advertising jingles. Young children, learning to speak, love rhymes even if they do not understand the words. If you write just a little poem for them, they will be delighted—but you may have to listen to its being repeated again and again.

Bobby has a birthday;
Bobby now is four.
Bobby is a big boy,
Bigger than before.

That is an example of alliteration—all those words starting with B. You don't, however, need to know about terminology and rules to write poetry, although there are half a million websites that will tell you “how to write poetry”. From songs, you already know enough about rhythm and rhyme.

Almost everyone has had an emotional experience that he or she wanted to put into words: for many, the first time they fell in love—or the second or third time. Maybe a popular song—“our song”—served to express what they felt for lack of their own words. But it does not have to be that way; trying to express something (not just first love) is a delightful or poignant exercise, regardless of whether it is ever shared. Perhaps the most popular poetic form is the sonnet, just 14 lines, which gives enough room for expression but provides a manageable framework.

An even shorter poetic form is the haiku, just seventeen syllables in three lines. Formally, there are rules about the subject for a haiku, but let someone else worry about that if you like what you have written. Limericks are, of course, another short form, and one that is as much fun to write as to read.

Writing poems for others, like for Bobby, is easier, and the effort is always well received, no matter how forced the rhythm or rhymes are.

Such poems are called “occasional poems,” not because they are seldom, but because they are written for an occasion. Poet Laureates are expected to compose poems for important state occasions, and their efforts are published. Poetic style and the interest in such has moved away from laudatory praises of the monarch on his or her birthday, winning a war, or whatever. It is a lot easier to say something nice or humorous about someone you know for a “round” birthday.

You and I may not have enjoyed having to memorize poems in high school (30 lines of Milton's Paradise Lost!), but younger children do like to learn poems that appeal to them and should be encouraged. Poetry presents new vocabulary and turns of phrases that expand their understanding of the language.

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